The word was already out on WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Constitution even before his debut in Saturday's 4TH race at Gulfstream Park, and despite a slow start, the Todd Pletcher sophomore lived up to his even-money favoritism -- and advertised himself as a hot prospect for the Kentucky Derby trail.
After leaving the gate a tad tardily with Javier Castellano, the son of Tapit rushed up to force the pace. Constitution was three lengths back through an opening quarter in :22 3/5 on the fast main track, but zipped up the rail to press Juba through a half in a torrid :44 4/5. The slightly more experienced Juba, who was third to Pletcher's Surfing U S A in his only prior start, kept Constitution pinned inside as they dueled into the stretch.
Yet Constitution showed admirable resolve in his introduction to racing, and simply outkicked Juba down the lane. Forging ahead at the six-furlong mark in 1:09 3/5, Constitution won going away by a length in a final time of 1:23 1/5 for seven furlongs. The popular winner returned $4.20.
"Sometimes, with first-time starters you never know how they're going to break," Castellano saidd. "He's been showing speed in the morning. Today he was the second horse loaded in the gate in a big field of horses, and I think he waited too long. When they opened the gate, he was surprised.
"After that, when he saw the daylight he ran off. He wanted to run today and he wanted to put on a good show. I would have liked to cover up a little more behind horses, but I couldn't find it because half of the rest of the field was outside.
"He didn't get panicked because he went really tight on the rail," the meet-leading rider added. "I really like him because he's got good heart, good courage and he never gave up. You could see with those very fast fractions, he never gave up. He just kept going and I let him gallop out.
"I think this is a special horse."
WinStar President Elliott Walden admitted that he was a bit worried at the outset.
"He didn't break well and he's been a free-running colt, so that did concern us," Walden said. "But he is very athletic, and he showed that in the first eighth of a mile when he got back into the race again and into position. It was nice to see him overcome that down the stretch. It was a really, really good effort and you don't see them do that very often. You might see them get back into it, but then they back up and finish third or fourth. It was pretty impressive."
Juba drifted out noticeably in the final yards, but was still two lengths clear of Greyfell back in third. Another 2 3/4 lengths astern came the mildly closing Ulanbator. WinStar's other runner, the Bill Mott-trained Athens, also got off to a poor start but was never involved and checked in sixth in the nine-horse field.
Bred by Grapestock and Fox Hill Farms in Kentucky, Constitution brought $400,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga, and he has now opened his account with a $25,200 deposit.
The bay colt is out of Baffled, who placed in the six-furlong Albany at Royal Ascot in 2007. Baffled is a full sister to current Dubai performer Surfer, runner-up in last year's Maktoum Challenge Round 2, and a three-quarter sister to Grade 1-winning juvenile Awesome Humor. Baffled is also a half-sister to Grade 1-winning sprinter Emcee, victorious in the 2012 Forego at Saratoga, and to stakes scorer Spring Party.
Walden cautioned that connections would be in no hurry to stretch Constitution out, or pitch him straight onto the Derby trail.
"He's very fast, so I'm not sure that we would go right to two turns with him," Walden added. "We'll see how it goes."